Is ADHD an “Aussie” thing?

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On Sunday, I tweeted a link to this article by Marilyn Wedge about rates of ADHD in different countries.adhd

Distilling the essence of this article, I subsequently wrote this for my regular column in the Generation Next blog.

In the US, at least 9% of schoolchildren are on medication for ADHD.

In Australia it is estimated that 11% of children and adolescents fulfill the criteria for ADHD.

Yet in France the figure is just .5%. As in POINT five. Half a percent.

Why is this?

Well, first of all the way in which French psychiatrists view ADHD compared to their US and Australian counterparts is significantly different.

In the US, psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. As such they treat it with medications such as Ritalin.

However, across the Atlantic, French psychiatrists see ADHD as a condition that has social and situational causes. They seek to ascertain what issues in their social setting are causing the child act the way they do.

Treatment then invariably involves counseling and psychotherapy – rather than prescribing drugs.

The French also use their own system for diagnosing conditions. They prefer not to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as we do in Australia and the US.

You may well have read of the concern that the redesign of the DSM may well lead to more people being labeled with a condition, and as such provide a bigger target for the pharmaceutical companies.

I must make it clear. I am NOT a mental health professional, but as a parent of a boisterous 5 year old, and a teacher of 15 years, I have a vested interest in this debate.

There are many sides to this discussion, and I plan to explore them in more depth in coming blog posts. I encourage others to respond with their thoughts… especially professionals and parents of kids with ADHD.

0 Comments on “Is ADHD an “Aussie” thing?

  1. My mum’s a psychologist who works with lots of kids, and one thing I’ve learnt from her that might also be a factor in differences is how here in Australia GPs are primary point of call for all ‘health’ related issues including psychology. If people want to tap into rebates for psychology they must get a referral through a doctor, but doctors are not trained in psychological or nutritional issues, the medical profession is central to “medication,” and if they see a kid presenting symptoms of ADHD they may be more likely to refer to a psychiatrist (who write medication prescriptions) than a psychologist (who would consider social and environmental influences) or nutritionist or naturopath (who would consider diet, allergies, etc). Australian GPs frequently lack training, understanding of, and respect for nutrition and naturopathy – despite there being huge scientific research findings proving how different people can be affected by diet and nutrition.

    My mum works with some kids whose behaviour has changed hugely when they alter diet – depending on the kid it might be cutting out artificial colours, or wheat products, or need to eat more protein… Sometimes it’s about creating more consistency in routines, or teaching kids coping techniques to calm themselves down, or giving them more exercise to burn off excess energy…

    ADHD is real, however it can be exasperated versus minimised by social, environmental and dietary influences, and if some kids can minimise their symptoms to within the normal spectrum without ritalin is there any need to give them the lable of ‘ADHD’?

    I’m guessing that in European countries there is more respect and tradition for naturopathy and dietary solutions (generations of handed-down family wisdom) versus highly medicated & commercialised food production countries like US and to a lesser extent Australia.

    • Oh, and yes, you’re right about the DSM. It is too centred around medicating issues rather than looking for root causes and influences that may lead to an equal or better outcome than medication. There are times for medication, but if there’s a natural alternative it’s usually a better option.

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